Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Negotiating with Doctors

Once again, a brief apology for being out of touch. I know that many of you have been worrying about me. I haven't been as well as usual, but am managing things at home with the help of my wonderful doctor.

I saw my doctor, Dr B, this morning. I had a double appointment and took with me the list that I made after our last meeting (which I described in my last post). Dr B read through it all carefully, even checking that I was happy with all my current medications. After listing all my symptoms (yes, all of them), I wrote a Top 10 list of the things that affect my quality of life the most, and suggested ways in which these things might be treated.

Many patients, however knowledgeable they are about their own condition, are reluctant to make suggestions, ask to try specific treatments, or even to ask for a referral to a specialist. Many of us even shy away from telling doctors how bad things really are for fear of being labeled as drug-seeking or malingering.

A good doctor will listen to your suggestions and explain what they think. They may not agree with you, but you deserve an explanation rather than a flat-out refusal. If you have a reason for your suggestion (e.g. it's part of the guidelines for treatment of your condition, or peer-reviewed research from a reputable journal), explain that to your doctor. Your doctor deserves an explanation as much as you do, and they're more likely to agree with you if they understand your reasons for suggesting a particular treatment.

The number of conditions that most doctors encounter in a single week is daunting. The number of guidelines for each of those conditions is daunting. This is just for the common conditions. Expecting your doctor to know the guidelines for your rare conditions as well as you do is not fair. They may find time to read the guidelines for your condition once they've met you, but if you want to be proactive and read them, then do, though remember that your doctor may have good reasons for treating you differently, especially if they're a specialist. Ask them to explain their reasons.

Most doctors work extremely hard, and are extremely knowledgeable. This doesn't mean that you're not allowed to disagree with them, and certainly doesn't mean that you can't see a different doctor if you feel that they're not a good 'fit' for you. I saw a GP at my local clinic when I was having a severe asthma flare. I'd increased my steroids to maximum and despite using my nebuliser every 2 hours, was still short of breath at rest. This particular GP recommended that I go home and start to reduce my steroid dose. This advice was not just ill-informed (about a condition that affects approximately 1 in 10 people in the UK), but actually dangerous, and the doctor refused to listen to any of my suggestions. Needless to say, I try to avoid that doctor now.

But back to my lovely doctor. Dr B was concerned about my chest and my stomach. I do have a chest infection, but I explained to Dr B that I've increased my steroids and nebulisers to maximum, and that I have antibiotics on hand, which I will take if I get a fever or other concerning symptoms. I've struggled a bit with keeping my oxygen levels up, but apart from that I feel that my symptoms are as well-controlled as they can be, and that I just need to support my body while it recovers from this infection. Dr B checked my oxygen levels and peak flow, and listened to my chest, and agreed that I'm giving my body enough support for now.

My stomach was a different matter. I've not been able to keep food or water down since Sunday night. This is not a new thing for me, but it is worse than usual. Dr B was keen that I should go straight to the hospital for IV fluids. I don't feel that I'm at that point yet, and explained what I planned to do in order to avoid the hospital:

1. Set a timer every 15 minutes and try to drink 5 - 10 ml each time it rings
2. Vary the liquids I'm drinking (I can't tolerate Dioralyte rehydration solution, but I can get electrolytes from other liquids)
3. Monitor my output
4. Take regular anti-emetics

Dr B agreed that this was a reasonable plan, but wanted me to promise that I would go to the hospital if things 'got worse'. I find this a bit vague, as it could mean anything from managing to drink 10 ml less than yesterday all the way through to passing out from severe dehydration. So we agreed specific parameters:

1. If my systolic blood pressure drops below 100 mmHg, or if I faint (this is slightly difficult, as I have autonomic dysfunction, so I do faint sometimes anyway, but I still think it's reasonable)
2. If my resting heart rate increases above my normal by 10 bpm
3. If my urine output drops below 300 ml per day
4. If I'm still not keeping liquids down by Friday

I left the appointment feeling very positive and confident that I could manage my own condition, and that I knew how to recognise problems and what to do if things deteriorate.

So, tips for successful appointments:
  • Go into the appointment with a plan - what do you want to address at this appointment?
  • Be honest about your symptoms. Write them down if necessary.
  • Don't be afraid to ask questions.
  • Make suggestions if you have them.
  • Listen to your doctor's advice.
  • Ask for clarification if necessary.
  • Make sure you come away with a plan, written down if it helps you to remember.

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